A bit of a different look from the Runnin’ Bobcats Saturday night, but still the sane tried and tested success. Eschewing the usual three-point shooting festival, EHS drove the ball without hesitation against Victoria East, and their big kids presented well and converted consistently.
With senior Cord Arriola leading the penetration attack, EHS won the title at its Craig Smith Tournament, dispatching the Titans 72-59. As returning star Stevie Guerrero was sidelined with a shoulder injury leftover from football, Arriola stepped up big time in the tourney title game, scoring a season-best 27 points and breaking down the East defense with quick flashes to the bucket. He and the other Bobcat guards were able to find posts Gabe Rivas and Noe Espericieta, plus wing Nick McAliff, as EHS fought off a good challenge from the Titans.
Led by 6-foot-2 star Tyler Friedel, who had 25, East gave the unbeaten ‘Cats (6-0) all they could handle in a crisp, well-played capper. With Aaron Olvera (15 points) struggling a bit, Arriola was there to pick up the slack; sometimes the forgotten man in the program’s charge, he was anything but overlooked Saturday, making the All-Tourney team along with defensive ace Phillip de la Rosa and MVP Olvera.
Arriola, a solid receiver on the three-deep football unit, withstood strong defense from the Titans to be the star of the night, scoring as many points as he had in the five previous outings.
“I think the contact in football has made me tougher,” said Arriola, who caught 18 balls for three TDs in 2010. “Plus, my conditioning is really good because of football.”
He had 16 points in the first half, with Guerrero missing and Olvera off and on. The ‘Cats led by four toward the end of the first quarter before East tied it at 19. The Titans, an athletic group, suffered in terms of depth as they brought just nine kids to the tournament. But they managed a 32-31 advantage before Arriola’s three, the only one the usually sharpshooting EHD club hit on the night, at the end of the second.
Up by 2 at the half, EHS fell behind 42-40 after a 7-0 Titan run but Olvera made a couple of tremendous drives to bring his team back. Scoring eight in the quarter (he also made four blocks and four steals on the night) the senior standout installed the ‘Cats into a 51-42 lead after three, and they never looked back.
Out-quicking the tiring Titans to the basket down the stretch, Arriola put in nine in the final eight minutes, and continued to find the open man with ease. Rivas and Espericueta combined for 16 points with the 6-4 Espericueta exhibiting soft hands and a quick release in his minutes on the court.
Coach Zeke Cuellar said that his team’s ability to break East down off the dribble was the key to the victory, which followed wins in the Smith over San Benito and Brownsville Porter.
“Early on we saw that we could get that done, and it ended up being a good strategy,” said Cuellar, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the Valley this year. “The guy guarding Cord, I thought Cord could take him any time he wanted, and he did a good job creating easy looks for our kids down low.”
East, which won the tourney last year, put up a major fight, but Cuellar had known the Titans were going to do that.
“It was a dogfight all the way, that is a good program over there with well-coached kids,” he commented. “We got some nice contributions from some guys who are getting the chance to play and show what they can do right now. With Steve out, some kids are getting in there and having the opportunity. When he comes back, things are going to be a little different, but those kids getting a chance to play right now is good for them and for the team.”